What is the mainstream press to do when unprecedented news about the Trump administration breaks? On CNN anchor Erin Burnett’s Thursday night show, a panelist army was once again deployed as reports flew in that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un had invited President Donald Trump to have face-to-face talks over the North Korean nuclear program.
The six experts beaming in offered up a variety of conflicting analyses: The U.S. sanctions regime is working! Kim is seizing his best opportunity to negotiate with a liberal South Korean leader and a freewheeling American president! This is evidence of Trump as a master dealmaker! No president could prepare himself for serious talks with North Korea in a matter of months! This is a PR stunt! This could be a meaningful PR stunt that leads to more action! This is a political win for Kim! This is a political win for Trump! We should view it all with skepticism.
I need a cold shower! Before throwing the show to a commercial break, Burnett, added in her own bit of analysis:
Just an extraordinary evening and, of course, opening the door to the big question: If President Trump can truly solve this problem, that would be going down as a great president, and there’s no way around that. That is the reality here.
I guess that’s true! We definitely only judge presidents on one decent thing they do. That’s why Nixon is always remembered as a great president—he set up the EPA, didn’t he? If Trump minimized economic inequality, healed America’s racial divide, or brought all those coal jobs back from the dead, he might also go down as a great president to certain people. Columbia Journalism School Professor Bill Grueskin keenly added on Twitter:
Trump’s invite to speak about nuclear weapons with an antagonistic dictator is surprising. It’s news! But beyond that, the complexity of the situation in general, coupled with Trump’s erratic nature in particular, makes it near impossible to say what it all means, let alone evaluate it against past presidents’ efforts.
So Burnett, our navigator on this familiar journey, threw up her hands: If Trump does the good thing, it will be good. Never mind that much of the evidence before us suggests viewers should also prepare for the exact opposite.